IN post-independence Scotland it will be entirely natural to wish what’s left of Team GB all the very best at the Olympics. We’ve simply got too much shared history and aspirations not to wish them well. And so many great sporting heroes.
My earliest memory of the Olympics was watching the great distance athlete David Bedford, pride of London, compete at the 1972 Games in Munich. Despite once holding the 10,000m world record, his inability to find a kick at the end of the big set-piece races saw him bypassed by the twin flying Finns, Lasse Viren and Juha Vaatainen. But I liked him because he looked like a hippie.
In later years, you couldn’t help but be swept along by the joyous fervour of Daley Thompson and Fatima Whitbread or cheer for Steve Ovett in his personal, trans-continental duels with Sebastian Coe. Perhaps then I was too young or too busy chasing life’s shallower goals to notice if I was being subliminally manipulated to be a good and unquestioning little Unionist.
Or, perhaps it was because the BBC and the press didn’t seem to be as incessant in their Team GB chauvinism. For a start; the British athletes weren’t called “Team GB”: it was simply Great Britain or British. Their athletic apparel wasn’t a grotesque, sunburst Union Jack; it was simply white with two thin, red and blue stripes.
The nationality of star athletes from home nations outside England, such as the great Scottish swimmer David Wilkie or Belfast’s legendary Mary Peters, were given due prominence. At these Tokyo Olympics, the news that Duncan Scott had become the first British athlete to win as many as four medals at a single Games ran all day without any reference to the fact he was a Scot.
In those years when Great Britain was happy with its handful of Olympic champions, England seemed to be more relaxed and mature about its place in the world. It didn’t seem to feel it had anything to prove or to view every international engagement as an opportunity to beat its chest.
At this point I’m willing to concede that perhaps I’m just being paranoid and that I need to lighten up and get with the overall picture. Yet I’ve never really been what you might describe as a “good” nationalist. I don’t get upset by the presence of comestibles stamped with Union Jacks. I want Scotland to be independent but I won’t lose a single night’s sleep if it doesn’t happen.
But we’re living in a time when the UK Government and all those agencies by which it conveys its subliminal messaging seems determined to make ultras of the meek.
I watched the BBC celebrate two more gold medals in the sailing events. Britain has spent tens of millions of pounds over two decades to dominate these events. And so they announced that “Britannia Rules the Waves”, Britain’s great homage to invading poor nations, slaughtering their people and making off with their resources.
Much of the funding for sailing and rowing events comes from the National Lottery and those who play it each week, most of whom will never have been offered the chance to climb aboard a seafaring craft at their school sports days. The National Lottery exists to fund good causes but some causes are deemed to be better than others, especially if they contribute towards the goal of geopolitical prestige.
In the medal table, Britain are likely to finish comfortably in front of all its former EU partners. This would have been unthinkable not so long ago before someone decided that it would be a great wheeze to get poor people chasing their Lottery dreams to fund pastimes in which only about a dozen nations feign an interest. How long before Tory politicians proclaim this as proof of a post-Brexit bounce?
It didn’t take either long to signify the same following the successful manufacturing of the Oxford vaccine and England’s success at the European Championship.
Even something as simple as the cycling has become fetishised. If you think those two-wheeled machines are bikes then think again. On Monday we were told that teams of Nasa-quality scientists had been hired to craft each of them to fit the exact physiological specifications of the riders.
Droplets of their sweat probably combine with moisture in the air to provide some extra torque. Jeff Bezos probably has a couple of them in the luggage compartment of his Mars rocket. At least he was using his own cash to pay for them.
In the UK, we’ve long been scornful of regimes we consider to be dodgy who use the Olympics as a propaganda tool. Is Britain trying to mount something similar in the immediate post-Brexit era?
Unionist-facing commentators are quick to bray and snort their disdain at such suspicions. Yet, they work for newspaper titles who are owned by a handful of billionaires whose fortunes and influence rest on British exceptionalism. Their power and money is invested in peddling its propaganda. As the supermarket shelves curiously begin to turn barren and their little continental Waitrose treats get scarcer the prospect of dinner-party shame awaits when next they offer their New Town nibbles.
It seems increasingly anachronistic for Scottish and Welsh athletes still to compete under the Team GB banner. We participate separately at Commonwealth Games and at the football and rugby World Cups, the two biggest team sports on the planet. The world recognises that Scotland is distinct from England and Great Britain. They know this because, for them, Britain means England. How could it be otherwise when almost all of their encounters at a geopolitical and diplomatic level will have seen them engage with the cream of England’s public school system?
Of course, whenever anyone seriously suggests Scotland competing as a separate country some athletes are shoved forward and expected to talk about their pride representing Team GB. This, after all, is where their friends are and how they make their living. In the professional era where your income and life goals can be decided on what pursuit the UK Olympic committee deems to be prestigious, what else are you expected to say?
There was a period when this didn’t seem to matter that much. UK governments of whatever stamp at least possessed a fig leaf of decency and a nod to ethics. But after illegal wars and regime changes; the renewed hostility towards refugees and immigrants and the fill-your-boots corruption of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, it’s understandable if people would rather not be represented by its tarnished colours and flag.